Whatsapp App Overview
Whatsapp is a mobile and social messaging service wildly popular among teens, designed to let users exchange unlimited text, audio, photo and video messages and make phone calls for free with an Internet connection. The app offers a private, convenient way for teens to chat with a relatively low risk of encountering strangers. As with any messaging app, parents should be aware of sexting, privacy and cyberbullying risks.
Features for Parental Caution
- No age verification
- Not recommended for children under 13
- Medium sexting risk
- Medium privacy risk
- Medium cyberbullying risk
- Medium risk of exposure to inappropriate content
- Geotagging of photos and location sharing feature presents a possible safety risk
What Parents Should Know About the Whatsapp App
Whatsapp is free to download and available for all mobile phones with an Internet connection. Teens typically use this app to communicate and share photos and videos in more intimate groups than on social media like Instagram and Facebook.
While Whatsapp is generally safe for young people due to its tight privacy settings, it is possible to use in unsafe ways. While it presents a low risk of encountering strangers, teens may accidentally expose themselves to child grooming, cyberbullying or privacy risks by adding contacts, including strangers, that they encounter through other apps and social media to their mobile phone and Whatsapp contacts. Without careful management, its geolocation tagging of photos and location sharing feature may present a physical safety risk.
The app’s privacy may falsely lead teens into believing that everything shared within a chat is private, leading to a risk that they may sext or share inappropriate photos without awareness of their digital footprint. Unlike most messaging apps, Whatsapp does not require users to create a password. If a friend or acquaintance gains access to their phone, they may send rogue messages that appear to be authored by the teen.
Finally, with any social media app, cyberbullying is a risk. In particular, group chats may be used to cyberbully people. However, the app offers inbuilt safety measures such as the ability to block users.
How the Whatsapp App Works
After downloading, you will be asked to let the app access your mobile phone contacts list. If you accept, it will add your mobile phone contacts who have the app installed to your Whatsapp contacts list. Once your contacts sync, an indicator will alert your contacts when you are online. There is currently no way to appear offline or make this information private.
Since Whatsapp does not require a password to open, it is recommended you lock your mobile phone with a password to prevent strangers from sending messages. The first time you receive a message from an unknown number, the app will offer the option to report the number as spam.
To increase your privacy, you can restrict anonymous Whatsapp users from viewing your profile photo and status by restricting this setting to ‘My Contacts’. You can opt to restrict location sharing by switching off location sharing on your phone and within Whatsapp’s settings.
For the safest experience, young people should exclusively use Whatsapp to interact with people they personally know and avoid adding contacts from other social media platforms. We also recommend ensuring teens understand that content shared on social messaging apps leave a digital footprint. Once shared, any message, video or photo can be copied, re-shared and posted anywhere online.
Other discussion points include:
- The importance of only adding people they know and trust to their contact list
- The importance of privacy, including geotagging of photos and location sharing
- How to deal with cyberbullying, including deleting contacts, blocking users and reporting harassment